Friday, 22 July 2016

Trying to make the most of the last of the sunshine

The Safari got out for a long lunch yesterday. Patch 2 was very quiet so we took the camera for a stroll round the work's garden. We were looking for butterflies, one species in particular but the sun had gone in by now and that make our target species might be a bit trickier.
There were still several Ragwort plants with Cinnabar moth caterpillars munching them bare.
Above them in the hedge the local House Sparrows were noisy and active.
Near to them we heard the high pitched begging calls of nestlings but it would be a while before we learned their identity. Butterflies were plentiful with Small Whites the most numerous.
Followed by Meadow Browns.
The hoped for Grayling hadn't made the few hundred yard flit from the dunes to the south. Or if one did it wasn't around when we were looking.
When we got to the end of the hedge and associated wildflowers we turned round to see a Dunnock on the lawn a ways off. It hopped around a bit grabbed a morsel and took it to the hedge from where we heard the heard the begging youngsters again - mystery solved.
Still keeping our eyes on the flowers, just in case of a Grayling, we saw plenty of Red Tailed Bumble Bees mostly on the Ragwort. Watching them we spotted another much smaller bee working the flowers.
We're fairly sure it's the tiny Colletes daviesanus which we've recorded here in previous years.
Today we've had a day off pending an adventure northwards this weekend. We concentrated on the flowers blooming in the garden
Wish you had smellavision - this one is delicious
Purple Loosestrife buzzing with bees
Oregano
Salad Burnet - in a pot donated by a local botanist
Honey Bee on the Oregano, lots of them being busy today
In the afternoon we had to take Wifey up town for an appointment and while we waited we set for the big park with the big camera and met up with BD for a couple of hours to see what we could find.
We haven't processed those pics yet so here's a cute cygnet off the phone - shame about the bag of turd in the top corner.
Sadly there were far too many people walking round staring at phone screens playing Pokemon, they were passing inches away from amazing real creatures all with awesome super-powers, if only they could be made as interesting and 'important' as the digital nonsense...how can we do that before it's too late?
Where to next? You'll have to wait to find out about our adventure to the north.
In the meantime let us know who's buzzing around in your outback.



Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Hotter than hell...well maybe not quite

The Safari was out early for a tots event up at the top end of the North Blackpool Pond Trail with the Early Years Team. While we were waiting for the little ones to arrive we had a look at what was about to show them. There is a friendly Heron, or it's well habituated to people on the other side of the fence.
It does allow closer approach if your careful and don't startle it but it does have a limit you can't cross before it walks on a few paces.
On the had rail we spotted a small fly dining on a blob of bird poo - an excellent photo opportunity, brilliant! But maybe not to the taste of our colleagues.
Look at the length of that labrum
The little ones turned up and we had a close look at the Heron, which was considerably taller than most of them.
And of course being by a suburban lake there were plenty of ducks and geese to collect moulted feathers from. Being in charge of all things wildlife we gave RK our camera to do the pic thing.
We did a bit of pond dipping finding the children lots of Water Boatmen and a small 3-Spined Stickleback. It was still before mid-morning but it was getting seriously hotter by the minute. Time to move on and find some shade round the corner. Here we found lots of Hedge Bindweed flowers for the kiddies to play parachutes with.
We also showed the youngsters some Sycamore 'helicopters' and had a play with those, far from ripe but they still worked. While we were enjoying the whirlies lots of butterflies were fluttering around and a Brown Hawker dragonfly flew over us. RK was still in charge of the camera and had turned all arty with this cobweb shot.
And then was seen looking intently in to the long grass by the side of the path, she'd found several tiny Froglets.
We were looking for some more when we found a full sized adult which was eventually successfully wrangled into our pond dipping tub.
By now it was scorchio and getting far too hot for the little ones so it was back to base and a very refreshing ice lolly.
We had a short time to get through the traffic and back to work to set up for Yr 4 and their final pond dipping study.
They did their science quickly in the now 30C+ heat, it had become one of the top 10 hottest days ever for here, but 'sadly' fell short of the 33.7C record set in the July heatwave of 1976.
Their nets were in the water as soon as possible and they started to pull out some good finds. Tiny Pea Mussels aren't netted very often from our pond, only about 2mm across.
Blobs of snails eggs were found and some of them were seen to be just about to hatch.
There was nothing sinister about the damselfly nymph, it was just resting there. Like it is here on an adult Wandering Snail.
Other snails included large Ramshorn Snails
And the much smaller and skinnier Keeled Ramshorn Snail
Many of the old favourites were found like this rather large Water Boatman, yesterday's group didn't catch any anywhere near this big.
An animal we see on most pond dips in the warmer months but have never photographed before is the Bloodworm, the larva of a Non-biting Midge.
Soon an excited voice called out "water spider, water spider!" asking them to count the legs had them working through the key to find it was a dragonfly nymph.

With all the 3-Spined Sticklebacks in the tubs it wasn't long before we heard the cry "it's grabbed a fish!!!!!!!"
We brought the group round one by one to see predation in action. Then in another tub we were able to watch a nymph attacking the fish, its mask darting out at the blink of an eye, if it wasn't for the shadow we wouldn't have been able to see it. It took several attacks before another Stickleback was captured. We could see the fish being hit by the strike but the nymph wasn't able to make the attack stick until...
What an awesome experience for the kids. We've never seen this before, well that's not unexpected as it usually happens in the bottom of the pond well out of sight! Amazing to witness for real rather than on a YouTube clip or even a David Attenborough documentary.
So how hot did it get in the end? Too hot for working outside all day probably but don't tell that to GB down in the South West forests of Western Australia.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 if there's no torrential thunderstorms to contend with.
In the meantime let us know who's enjoying the hot heat in your outback.


Monday, 18 July 2016

It's hotting up so that means invertebrates

The Safari wasn't able to get out on Saturday until late afternoon. The sun was shining and it wasn't too windy so we smothered ourself in Clegg repellent took the short walk round to Patch 2. Insect repellent is the best thing to wear if you want to get close to insects! but it is essential if you don't want to be eaten alive by the little horrors.
We were immediately on to butterflies, there were Meadow Browns all over the grassland and nectaring on the few remaining Bramble flowers.
One pair were getting on down in the long grass




A little further on we came across an Early Bumble Bee which seemed to be a little worse for wear despite the warm sunshine.
It wasn't these low down insects we were there to see. We were looking up, high into the canopy where our quarry watches for rivals and drinks the honeydew. They were very active with two presumed males spiraling high above the tree in a dizzying battle before splitting apart and settling back down on their favourite leaves.
We watched and waited but they never dropped any lower - just as well as our first Brown Hawker dragonfly of the year was patrolling just above the Bramble thickets. Frustrated we wandered down to the rough field where there were many more Meadow Browns, a few Small Skippers and our second first of the year, three Gatekeepers.
We found one Large Skipper too and a fairly fresh one at that rather than an aging tatty one,
At the very bottom of the field there are a couple of scratty Dog Rose bushes, one of which was showing a good growth of Robins Pin Cushion Gall, made in response to a tiny wasp.
Time to return to the scrub for another neck craning session, but this time we were in luck. Almost straight away a movement on a flower caught our eye that wasn't bee-like. We moved in for a closer look and flushed the tiny butterfly. Thankfully it didn't go back up to the canopy but landed on a nearby leaf.
After a while the White Letter Hairstreak decided it was dinner time and more nectar was needed.



Once it was settled it gave us some good photo opportunities.
Phone camera
The White Letter Hairstreaks are a sign of hot summer days but all around were the  ripening signs of autumn.
That night we put the mothy on. Not a great catch 11 moths of seven species.
Chrysosteuchia culmella - again
Bramble Shoot Moth - New for garden
Dark Arches - quite a pale one
Dotted Clay
Dotted Clay - with tufts
Marbled Beauty
 At work we've had a school group investigating the pond.
Ramshorn Snail
Water Boatman
And the best if the lot several of these monsters, the children witnessed one catch and eat a small 3-Spined Stickleback fry and another eating an unfortunate damselfly nymph. Horror, shock, incredulity that that could happen to a fish, glee, the emotions and comments were quite revealing.
Common Darter nymph
So there you have it some brilliant bugs, far more brilliant than any Pokemon character and with more impressive REAL super-powers too.
Where to next? Just two children's groups tomorrow at different locations so there should be something fascinating to find.